"It's the highest screen count ever for a Universal release, but not in playdates," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution. "Our goal was not to break records in number of playdates."
Hulk remains Universal's widest release in terms of locations with 3,660 theaters. Last year, Universal dominated December with Meet the Fockers, which opened at 3,518 venues.
Director Peter Jackson's remake of the seminal 1933 monster movie officially cost $207 million to make, or more than double what Jackson spent on an individual Lord of the Rings picture.
Universal wanted to temper rocketing expectations by holding Jackson's first Lord of the Rings picture, The Fellowship of the Ring, as the benchmark for King Kong. Released on a Wednesday in mid-December 2001, Fellowship grossed $75.1 million in its first five days at 3,359 locations.
"I think it's fair to compare King Kong to The Fellowship of the Ring," explained Rocco. "This is not the typical sequel. It's the same time of year, the same director, and the movie has many of the same characteristics."
With King Kong's gargantuan hype and in light of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe's better-than-expected $65.6 million opening weekend, expectations outside of Universal have risen to over $100 million for the first five days.
"That is a hefty number," said Rocco. "There've been only the last two Lord of the Rings to do that in December. That's putting King Kong at a high plateau. That would be fantastic."
In their first five days, The Return of the King pulled in $124.1 million at 3,703 venues (7,205 screens), and The Two Towers took in $102 million at 3,622 venues (6,633 screens). Like King Kong, all Lord of the Rings pictures had running times of about three hours or more.
This year alone, three movies have earned more than $100 million in their first five days: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith at $172.8 million, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at $119.7 million and War of the Worlds at $100.6 million.
In addition to the domestic launch, Universal has lined up over 6,000 playdates in 56 territories for King Kong in a massive foreign debut.
• 12/11/05 - 'Narnian' Delight: Passion of the 'Lion' Pays Off
• 12/22/03 - 'King' of the World: 'Rings' Reaps $250M in 5 Days
• 12/19/02 - Dear 'Lord!' 'Rings' Towers Over December
• Review: 'King Kong'
• All Time - 5-day Openings
• All Time - Widest Releases